Make your own fill-in-the-blank bar
September 24, 2018 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Last year for my annual Halloween party I did a "make your own" macaroni and cheese bar, where I made a few pans of fancy mac and cheese and had a buffet of toppings available. It was a huge hit, and I'd like to do something similar this year. What are some other dishes I could do?

The best things about the mac and cheese bar were:
1. I could prepare the huge dishes of mac and cheese ahead of time.
2. The toppings included chicken, meat, seafood, veggies etc., and took very little prep time.
3. People of varying diets could customize their dish. There will be pescatarians and vegetarians.
4. Once the food was out, I didn't have to do anything other than have fun.
5. It wasn't super expensive.

I don't want to repeat the mac and cheese, plus a few of us are trying to eat a little healthier this year. I don't want anything that will keep me in the kitchen or keep the oven on throughout the party (so no "make your own pizza" bar). I'd like it to be healthy(ish) and it must work for the veggie/pescy folks. All I can think of is a taco bar, which could work, but I'd love to hear your other ideas!
posted by tryniti to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Baked potato bar!
posted by stinkfoot at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


Mashed potato bar!
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Soup bar with good bread.

Make a pot of broth. Options for soup making could include meat, tofu, veggies, noodles, rice, really any kind of grain. People put what they want in bowls and add broth. You could have scallions available for topping as well as crackers.

Bread could be served with butter, hummus, jam.
posted by FencingGal at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ramen? Big pot of noodles, 2 kinds of broth (one vegan, one not) and then all kinds of meats, tofu, veggies, hot sauces, fermented bean pastes, etc....
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


loaded nacho bar! big crock pot of queso and whatever toppings (e.g. ground meat, scallions, tomatoes, hot sauce, other spicy things...)
oh wait healthy - maybe spring rolls? the rice paper wraps are easy to find and only require a quick soak, then can be loaded with a bunch of healthy/bulkable things
posted by blueberrypuffin at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


Mashed potato bar is fun because you can use martini glasses. Also, serve 2 types of potatoes- yellow (think traditional mashed potatoes) and sweet potatoes. Toppings can include: bacon, a few different kinds of cheese, sour cream, bbq, chili, and gravy for the savory potatoes and honey butter, cinnamon sugar, pecans, crisp/crumble/granola, marshmallow dip for the sweet.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 9:39 AM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Poke bar? I don't know if this is a trendy thing everywhere, but Toronto is FILLED with poke places right now so I tried it out, and I had a bowl that was:

brown rice
tofu
raw red pepper, jicama, cucumber
diced mango, pickled ginger, green onion
spicy sesame sauce, sesame seeds, lotus chips

and it was SO good. The place nearest me has meats, fish (raw tuna/salmon and two kinds of cooked shrimp), with lots of topping and sauce choices.
posted by wellred at 9:39 AM on September 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


Sandwich bar
posted by saturdaymornings at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2018


Poke bowls? Basically sushi bowls.

(I'm from Hawai'i and I hate the Americanization of poke, but it is delicious:)
posted by jraz at 9:42 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Chili bar. Make a base chili that is vegan (this is my base recipe) and then offer several kinds of meat (including fake, if you have veg friends), even hot dogs/hot links/smoked sausages and/or hamburgers, and all the weirdo stuff people eat with chili: frito pie makings (shreddar, sour cream, raw onion, green onion, Fritos), rice, spaghetti, nacho cheese sauce or Velveeta Ro-Tel, baked (or little roasted) potatoes, saltines and tortilla chips.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


Burrito/taco bar

OR

Pizza bar (decorate and bake your own)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:47 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Mezze bowl or pita bar (like you would get from the chains Cava, Mezze Me, Verts, Maoz, etc.). This will likely end up being pretty healty.

At the beginning of the bar, have the option of rice or salad or pita (or all!)

Next in line, have spread type items, like hummus.

Then have whatever meat or veggie options you are going to provide.

Last, have a tahini sauce to drizzle on top.

You can look at the Cava menu for examples of things you might want to include.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:48 AM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Spring rolls?

prep ahead all your veggies (shredded cucumer or zucchini, carrots daikon, whatever), proteins, herbs/lettuce/sauces and a big bunch of rice vermicelli. Your guests would probably need a demo on the basics of soaking and rolling the rice paper wrappers but its really not very difficult, takes practically no time, and is super customizable.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:51 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not too far afield from taco bar, but make-your-own burrito bars have been popular with my friends for a long time. Rice, beans, salsa/guacamole/sour cream, cheese, sauteed veggies, and choices of protein (crumbled up tofu in taco seasoning, chicken cooked in salsa, etc.), and of course tortillas. Those who want to minimize carbs/gluten can have theirs in a bowl. Everything can be prepared ahead of time.

Pasta bar. A friend once did this for a (well-attended) book club and it was a big hit. A big bowl of pasta, and then multiple options of sauces (pesto and marinara are good standbys) and toppings (shrimp, meatballs/sausages, sauteed mushrooms and zucchini are all good). Parmesan to grate and those little fresh mozzarella balls. People can mix and match as they like. You could also do zucchini noodles for those who want to make it lighter.
posted by lunasol at 9:55 AM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Taco Bar!
posted by Morpeth at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I do veggie chili bar for Halloween. Toppings: cornbread mini muffins, croutons, oyster crackers, goldfish crackers, green onions, French fried onions, cheese, bacon bits, sour cream, hot sauce...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:22 AM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don’t know if it’s the healthiest, but I’ve done a grill your own grilled cheese party and it was awesome. We had different kinds of bread, cheese, pickles, meats, spreads, etc and a couple of pots of soup (a tomato and a butternut squash) and everyone assembled/cooked their own grilled cheese. (This works best if you have a big kitchen and one of those big electric griddles. Then, some people can be at the griddle while others are at the stove, minimizing waiting around time.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 10:27 AM on September 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's kind of the reverse in a way, but fondue (dipping fondue, but cooking fondue could be fun too) has impressed the folks I've done it for in catering/party settings. I use my multi-crock crock pot with different cheese combinations, and then just piles and piles of dippers, like breads and pretzels and veggies and pickles and cured meats and apples and it's all great.
posted by xingcat at 10:27 AM on September 24, 2018


I don’t know if it’s the healthiest, but I’ve done a grill your own grilled cheese party and it was awesome. We had different kinds of bread, cheese, pickles, meats, spreads, etc and a couple of pots of soup (a tomato and a butternut squash) and everyone assembled/cooked their own grilled cheese. (This works best if you have a big kitchen and one of those big electric griddles. Then, some people can be at the griddle while others are at the stove, minimizing waiting around time.)

We did this and asked a few friends to bring their Foreman Grills and/or panini presses to make the cooking process more individualized.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:30 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've done this with fusion tacos so that people could make Mexican or whatever the other cuisine was, or something in between.
posted by Candleman at 10:45 AM on September 24, 2018


Piggy backing on both the nacho, and the baked potato bars, we've had a tater tot bar a few times, and the beauty of it is that you can diversify using both sets of traditional toppings. Gravy, check. Salsa, check. We have a fairly diverse set of dietary needs, and since we baked the tots and made the chili meat-free, we were able to meet everyone's needs. Lettuce, green onions, keeping the cheeses and sour creams lower in fat... it can be done.
posted by librarianamy at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Here in DC, we have a chain called Cava which is basically "Chipotle but mediterranean". You could do a version of that.

-Different versions of greens (spinach, mixed greens, "super greens", romaine)
-white or brown rice
-lentils
-lamb
-chicken
-falafel
-hummus
-red pepper hummus
-tzatziki
-feta dip
-various chopped olives
-tabbouleh
-chopped tomatoes/cucumber/onion
-chopped mint
-pita bread

Mix and match as desired. It's especially popular for people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions. Seems like that could be recreated in "bar" format?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


I did a gourmet hot dog bar for a party last year and it was pretty fun/easy. I had a few different choices for dogs/buns including veggie dogs and a bunch of different condiments. I printed up a poster and had the fixing on hand to do few different more unusual variants, like Brazilian, Colombian, and bahn mi-style. Rounded out with chips, potato salad, cole slaw, and fruit for sides (or toppings!).
posted by drlith at 11:56 AM on September 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've attended events like this that did make-your-own-grilled-cheese, and another one where we did make-your-own-sushi that was a big hit. (It's ok for the raw fish to be out on the counter for a couple of hours, or you can set up a cooler of ice for it to sit on). You make the rice ahead of time, provide sushi rolling mats and a mix of nicely chopped fillings. Depending on your friends, people might need some help actually making the rolls (it's easy to put too much rice in at first).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:43 PM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Taco bar is a classic for a reason. Soft & crisp tortillas.
Hot dog bar, make posters of regional variations.
I don't eat dairy, but fondue is actually hella fun. Cheese fondue and chocolate fondue. Hot oil fondue is great for both meat and tofu - deep fried tofu is really good. But if the oil is hot enough, there has to be someone making sure of safety every second.
posted by theora55 at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2018


If you aren't worried about feeding everyone something dinner-y (i.e., you could have people bring appetizers for the more filing foods, or something), we once did a make-your-own-caramel-apple bar at a halloween party and it went over really well - Apples, caramel, and then a million types of candy/toppings - mini m&ms, crushed oreos, mini chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, etc etc. People loved eating them later in the evening once they had a few drinks.
posted by nuclear_soup at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


A dessert option is ice cream sandwich bar. We did this for my cousin's birthday and it was really fun.
posted by radioamy at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


A polenta bar!
Toppings can include:
-Sausage and peppers
-Mushrooms and thyme
-A ragu
-Pesto
-Cheeses
-roasted veggies
-Chickpeas and kale
-Pretty much any roasted meat dish
It’s always a hit.
posted by leitmotif at 8:07 PM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I would do rice noodles and have toppings like:
Chicken satay
Marinated tofu
Shrimp
Peanuts
Bean sprouts
Shredded carrots
Scallions
Other veggies

And some sauces:
Peanut sauce
Mae ploy chili sauce
Soy sauce/ rice vinegar
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:17 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Another dessert option - the make your own S'mores bar is a staple of outdoor weddings these days. Here's a Sterno method for when you don't have a fireplace.
posted by Miko at 5:43 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


We often do Make Your Pizza, with the twist being to invite the guests to bring their own favourite toppings. We make the shells and provide at least 1 sauce and some cheese.
posted by terrapin at 9:12 AM on September 25, 2018


« Older Weird white spots on plants of many different...   |   Safari extension that replaces keyword(s) with my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.